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Halloween III – Season Of The Witch (1982)
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Michael Currie, Ralph Strait, Jadeen Barbor, Brad Schacter, Garn Stephens, Nancy Kyes
1/2 (out of 4)
“Do I need a reason? Mr. Kupfer was right, you know… I do love a good joke and this is the best ever, a joke on the children.”
“A good magician never explains.”
- Conal Cochran
So, what do you do now that Michael Myers is dead? Are we just going to let this Halloween franchise sit here, gathering dust? Of course not – John Carpenter has a plan – every year there will be a new Halloween movie, telling a different Halloween-themed story in the tradition of TV serials like Twilight Zone and Tales from the Darkside. This year’s story will be written by Nigel Kneale, who created the character of Bernard Quatermass and wrote the really cool Quartermass and the Pit. (Not happy about De Laurentiis wanting more gore and violence, he took his name off Halloween III, which was probably a good move considering its box office performance and critical reaction). Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (also tasked with rewrites), this third outing bears some resemblance to the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (both films are set in the fictional town of Santa Mira), but the main plot concerns a corporation called Silver Shamrock and the very strange masks that they are pushing in the run-up to October 31st. When a frightened store owner turns up in the hospital of Dr. Challis (Tom Atkins, or “The Man” as we call him ’round these parts), he’s clutching a Silver Shamrock jack-o’-lantern mask and raving incoherently. Challis witnesses a man in a business suit killing the chap in his bed, then later burning himself up in a car, which sends him off on a trip to Santa Mira with the guy’s daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) to check out the corporate headquarters, which is run by a strange Irishman named Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy, from Fail-safe and Robocop). What follows is a mix of creepiness and goofiness, involving killer androids, decapitations, lasers, snakes and bugs, and Stonehenge. It’s all held together by a running commercial gag with one of those annoying jingles based on London Bridge is Falling Down that embeds itself in your head (“8 More Days Till Halloween! Halloween! Halloween! 8 More Days Till Halloween! Sil-ver Shamrock!”)
Halloween III – Season Of The Witch is filled with the kind of dated effects (the use of computerized bleeps, video screens, early sprite renderings of a pumpkin keep it firmly grounded in the 80s), awful exposition, and over-the-top acting that I have seen in plenty of bad horror movies. (In one scene, Atkins squints and raises clenched fists to show his angst – genius!) There’s also an absurd use of jump-scares (one scene does it 4 times!) and ludicrous representations of mechanical assassins (think less Terminator and more Bionic Woman-era Fembots). However, the movie is not without its charm. The cast puts forth an earnest effort, and the storyline is so incredulous, it’s impossible for me to hate it. Some narrative decisions made me laugh – for example, the character of Challis is divorced, impulsive, and an alcoholic. He’s the perfect cop material, but the creators cast him as a medical doctor, probably because we wouldn’t expect it! He’s likable because he’s played by Carpenter-favorite Atkins, who is, in my opinion, one of the best B actors in the business. If you want somebody to play a flawed-but-tough everyman protagonist and ham it up correctly, call Tom. Things don’t really get going in this film until the last half hour, mostly because Atkins and Nelkin are busy getting it on in a hotel room, even though her dad just died and she barely knows this guy. I like their priorities!
The film begins endearing itself to me when a family is put inside a room with the commercial playing on the television. It beckons all youngsters to put on their Silver Shamrock masks and “watch the magic pumpkin… watch!” The family’s bratty kid begins convulsing and hits the ground dead, then insects and snakes crawl out from inside his mask while the seizure-inducing commercial drones on in the background. We’re soon up to our necks in witchcraft, as the evil toymaker explains the history of the Celtic festival of Samhain (he even pronounces it correctly), the one day of the year where the boundary between the living and the dead disappeared. Of course, he neglects to mention that the harvest was celebrated by sacrificing livestock, not children, but that doesn’t really make for an interesting horror movie, does it? I think it’s better to see Halloween III as an anti-corporate, anti-consumer screed which comments on the dangers of television and advertising warping the minds of children. (Perhaps ads for Camel cigarettes and kids cereals wouldn’t have been out of place next to the Shamrock commercial). The silliness of the Stonehenge angle aside (the villain is proud of how they lifted the artifact but won’t give it away, natch), I liked how the movie combined the superstition of ancient rituals with modern science and technology (Cochran’s conversation about a mechanical woman from Germany, 1785 suggests that the merging of the spiritual and mechanical has been going on for some time). There also might be something to the idea that television and consumerism are the new religion.
What we end up with is a cheesy and fun B picture that tries to transcend its limitations. I know there are plenty of reasons to dislike it – I just wasn’t particularly concerned about them this time around – but it seems to me the worst reason people give for not liking it is because there’s no Michael Myers in it. Is that the limit of our imagination these days? How many slasher clones have we seen by this time, and what would another Myers entry bring to the table? Well, apparently, it would bring a lot more cash, since this would be the last time the Halloween franchise would go without Mikey (Moustapha Akkad enjoyed the easy money). Like Friday the 13th and Jason, people can’t seem to get enough of Michael Myers, something I find incomprehensible. In the meantime, I can still enjoy Halloween III for what it is – a good black-hearted practical joke played on the kiddies, who thought of nothing about the holiday beyond the costumes, candy, whipped cream, and toilet paper. It’s no masterpiece by any stretch; it may not even be considered “good”, but as a Halloween-themed flick it works well, at least until the much-anticipated Trick ‘r Treat becomes available.